It was inside the luxury Ritz-Carlton Millenia hotel in Singapore on Chelsea’s pre-season tour that Antonio Conte, fuelled by two shots of super-strength espresso, made the cracks between himself and the club public one year ahead of what became the most expensive sacking in English football history.
Conte had not wanted to give up an hour of work with his squad to toe the party line with the group of English journalists who had made the long journey to cover the preparations for Chelsea’s Premier League title defence in the summer of 2017.
But finally convinced there was no getting out of his media duties, Conte checked on the quality of the coffee, downed his espressos and let rip – revealing he had wanted to sign Kyle Walker from Tottenham Hotspur before the right-back’s £50 million move to Manchester City and making clear his admiration for Harry Kane just a few days after Chelsea had broken their club record to sign a different striker, Alvaro Morata.
It was in the same summer that Conte had also wanted to sign Romelu Lukaku ahead of Morata and defender Virgil van Dijk rather than Antonio Rudiger, with the Belgian ending up at Manchester United and the Dutchman moving to Liverpool, along with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who picked Anfield ahead of west London.
In the end, the divorce was so bitter it resulted in a legal battle that cost Chelsea more than £26m. So there will be a few awkward nods and glances when Conte makes his first return to Stamford Bridge as Tottenham head coach, in the first leg of the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup on Wednesday night, with Kane leading his attack.
Conte won two lawsuits against Chelsea, one for unfair dismissal and another for the wages he believed he was owed under the terms of his contract, with the full cost to the Blues made clear 18 months after his dismissal in July 2018.
The club’s accounts, released in January two years ago for the year ending June 30, 2019, said: “Exceptional items in the current year of £26.6m relate to changes in respect of the men’s team management and coaching staff, together with associated legal costs.”
That statement was not much shorter than the 61 words Chelsea had used to confirm Conte’s dismissal, without so much as a word of thanks for his Premier League title success and the FA Cup he delivered at the end of what proved to be his final stormy season in charge.